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Reflecting on Life and our Mission: Fireside Chat with Brent Beardall, President and CEO, WaFD

MXS 2023 kicks off with a meaningful and emotional conversation between WaFD President and CEO Brent Beardall and Ryan Caldwell, Founder, Executive Chair, and Chairman of the Board of Directors at MX.

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I'll start off by just saying I am absolutely honored to be on stage with you. It's an absolute pleasure. Brent and I have known each other for a long time. We go back through building together, building great products for your customers and bringing them to market. but we've also shared a good amount of life together. Some of the really meaningful aspects, and we always shared values from the very get go.

We talked about how we were aligned on values, taking care of the customer, making an impact in the world, but then life kind of comes at us and, and, and hits us. Um, you've been at WaFd for 20 years. Um, what's kept you there? What's kept you focused there? What's kept you dedicated there?

First things first, thank you for having me. I am the luckiest guy in the world, and I will take that debate with anybody who wants to bring it up with me. I'm happy to take that debate. I'm lucky because number one, I love what I do and I love what I get to do it with.

And to answer your question, you know what has kept me at WaFd for 20 years? It is because I love what I do, right? I mean, it's, and having passion about what you do in making a difference, it's what it's all about. Life is too short just to go through the motions.

And, when I got to know WaFd, what, 25 years ago, it was this enigma to me here it was in the shadows of Amazon and Microsoft in downtown Seattle, this bank that stayed as far away from technology as possible. Literally the market cap was, I think 600 million. And the ledger for the holding company was by hand, not kidding. This is 2001, a general ledger by hand. In 2001, when I went to the bank, they didn't have email. 2001, I was doing a hundred million dollar trades with Goldman Sachs and their compliance people would say, you guys were full of it. We can't send a confirmation to And I said, no, that, that, that, that's all we've got going for us.

We didn't have voicemail. Literally, we bought our computers from WAMU. Many of you remember WAMU, right? WAMU was fantastic until it wasn't. We bought our computers for 10 cents a pound. The green screen as WAMU got rid of them, we bought them. So I looked at this,

So, wait, you bought computers by the pound?

Yes, sir. Yes, sir. We got that going for us. So I looked at this and I said, wait a second. This company is so backwards, but yet it was the most efficient banker thrift in the United States of America. The efficiency ratio was 17%. So it took 17 cents to make a dollar revenue. I said, wow. Imagine what you could do if you could bring technology into this bank. And so that's kind of been the journey we've been on, and that's what's kept me there.

That's an incredible journey because thinking of the changes that have occurred over, not you think, I mean, you measure those things in like half a century, but yet you're measuring them in a few decades. That's pretty amazing.

Um, you've always been so focused on helping communities, communities and invigorating them, empowering them has always been such a huge part of WaFd. How are you doing that now and how has that evolved over the years?

So that's a tagline. I I almost cringe when I hear it because everybody says it, right? What, what company do you know that's not, not for helping their communities? But the question is, what do you do? And I try to tell our teams, and I try to live this myself. Don't say what you want to do. Do what you want to do.

So here, here's my perfect example. Uh, you remember, uh, in 2019, that was the last time we had a government shutdown. And, uh, unfortunately we might be staring another government shutdown in the face. And, um, I was with my wife at a bar in Isis, Washington, and there was a episode on CNBC on the screen, and it was these impacted TSA workers. And the TSA worker was categorized as a non-essential employee. So they weren't guaranteed to get back pay, but yet we all needed them to do their jobs so we could get through the airports, or if they were the FBI agents, the border patrol, so forth, so we could go on doing our lives.

And the story was about these poor families and individuals. They had no idea how they were going to make the next rent payment, how they were gonna put food on the table. And my wife looked at me, she's like, well, you're a bank CEO, what are you doing about it? And I gave her the canned response. Well, you know, if they come to us, we'll defer a mortgage payment for 'em. But then she looked at me that way, someone that knows you well, she didn't say anything.

She just looked me deep in the eye. I'm right, you're right. That's chicken.

These individuals aren't struggling with their mortgage payments 'cause they don't own their houses. They likely are renters and they don't have a nest egg to fall back on. So they are literally worried about how are they gonna put food on the table. So I said, what can we do about it? That was a Saturday night. Sunday morning, I called our management team together. By Tuesday we launched a program that helped impact government workers. We gave them a line of credit for up to six paychecks. We did it at no origination fees and no interest for six months. And we did it with no credit check.

Our shareholders went nuts. They're like, wait a second. Do you guys do any unsecured consumer finance? I'm like, no. You're technically giving a loan to people that aren't employed and for doing that. You're making no origination fee. You have no interest. And how the hell do you think this is a good idea? I'm like, it's a good idea. Because I think banking at its core is a noble profession. We are here to help to provide certainty when there's uncertainty in the world. And it was remarkable what we were able to do and we did for both existing clients and non-clients.

I have a stack of letters from people about the difference I made in their lives. They're like, you don't know me. We've never banked with you before, but you helped us get through this time. And that's more valuable to me than almost anything else, especially when you've, it's pretty cool when you help someone, you know, but when you can help someone you don't know and there's absolutely nothing in it for you. That's what it's about.

Yeah, I I love that. Uh, everyone, uh, watching gets to see that true passionate emotion. 'cause I can see from being so close to your, your eyes are almost a little watery. You get that emotional about it. And, uh, I get to see that side of you. I've known that side of you. But it's great to see others. And, um it's a huge part about what MX of what MX cares about is trying to give better

tools and technology to banks that are trying to do right, that are trying to be that strength in this community. And, um, I talk a lot about how upward mobility in a strong middle class stabilizes ou very democracy. And I see banking at the absolute core of that. And, and in the end, you always end up ahead. You do those right things for the right reasons. Not even doing 'em for any of the other reasons, but they end up coming back and paying back many, many times over. So it's great to see that.

Um, now getting to something, just kind of mind blowing that happened for you about eight months ago. Um, you had a very life altering experience where I would say knowing you for the years prior, you've always been so incredibly mission driven and purpose driven. But, um, I saw that amplify in a way that I didn't even think was possible. Tell us about how that happened.

So, January 2nd, and, uh, the people that know me, uh, know that I'm a prankster. I love to joke around. And this all started with, with a lark. Uh, I was, uh, at an event with someone that's on the board of trustees at the University of Utah, and I'm a BYU Cougar. And, uh, he mocked me, in December. He's like, you know, I hope you have a good time in Albuquerque for me and my family. I'm gonna go to Pasadena. I really, thanks. Yeah, we're, we're going to the, the toilet bowl in Albuquerque and you're gonna the Rose Bowl, right?

And, um, I said, you know, if you're really such a good friend, you would invite me, the cougar and the other guy who was there who used to play on the BYU offensive line, you'd invite us to go down with you. And he said, in fact, I'll do it on one condition: you wear Utah gear. And, um my good friend, and actually a good friend of MX Nathan Ricks, was a pilot. He was the other BYU cougar. He said, in fact, we'll do it. I'll fly us back and forth the same day.

So with that, we were gonna go to the Rose Bowl on January 2nd, and um, morning of January 2nd, I got on, uh, his airplane, a twin engine jet airplane, uh, and, uh, took off from Provo, Utah,, just light snow flurries. Not, we were watching the weather carefully and we got to about 200 feet off the ground. And I was in the co-pilot seat, and I'm not a co-pilot at all. I was just along for the ride. Nathan was a, a very tenured pilot, meticulous with safety. We were about 200 miles an hour, 200 feet off the ground.

And I love the Mike Tyson quote, everybody has a plan till you get punched in the face. I got punched in the face and just, just like that, just like flipping a light switch, something terrible happened.

NTSB still hasn't disclosed what they think it is. For whatever reason, the plane barrel rolled left and went straight down impacting the front of the plane, essentially like a tin can where we were sitting. And my friend Nathan, uh, passed on impact.

As you look at this picture I looking at it at the right hand side of the plane, that's where Nathan was sitting. I was sitting on the left hand side of the plane right there. My head knocked out that windshield. It brings me to tears to look at that. 'cause I'm like, how in the world do I have legs there?

There's a series of miracles, one after another. One thing you notice about that plane, that the wings are gone. That is a huge blessing. We impacted so hard, we rolled 15 times and that severed the wings and the jets. And that's why we didn't burn to death.

So we went from, everything was great to all of a sudden, not only is it not great, but you have no idea if you're gonna survive.

And if you go to the next picture, guy in the gray sweatshirt, he's the head of security at the Provo Airport. Good friend of mine now, his name's Donovan. Zero, uh, EMT training. They are trained to put out fires. He got to me, he looked at me, he said, I don't even wanna tell you what your face looked like. And both my arms were embedded into the, uh, what was left of the one

Thing is Brent, I don't think they may realize, 'cause most people look in this picture as you've looked at it a lot, that that's you right there in the, in the blue.

So he looked at me and he extracted my arms from what the dashboard. And he, uh, my leg had a compound fracture out of it and or bones out of it. And he unhinged the, the, or pried away the, what was left of the cockpit. And he said, sit here. The paramedics are on the way. And for whatever reason, I didn't listen to him. And I unhooked the five point harness and I jumped out of that wreckage myself to him. And he essentially threw me on the ground because he couldn't hold me. I'm a big guy that saved my life because it got my face into the snow that slowed the bleeding.

And I see this picture, and number one, I see the picture. I'm like, who in the heck is taking a picture at this time? And they're like, have you heard about litigation? We, whenever anything happened, they're taking pictures of everything. And then I'm like, Donovan, why aren't you helping me? He's like, Brent, there was nothing we could do. We didn't think you were gonna make it.

And I look at that picture at one of the lowest points in my life. But this, I'm not telling this story about the low points in life. I'm telling this story about how quickly life can change. And you, you take what's given to you and then you rebound after this.

I went through two days of surgeries with three surgeons. The lead surgeon told my wife he'd never seen such a mangled body survive. Not exactly inspiring.

It has changed my life, brother. It has absolutely changed my life and changed my life for the better. The lessons I've learned, the outpouring of love and support. You're one of those people you came to visit me and my family when I was in the ICU.

Lemme tell you a quick story. We focus so much on our differences. And our differences are vast. They're significant, they're meaningful. And we need to understand the differences we have. But let's also make space for the humanity we share in common. And that's one of my great learnings going through this. The outpouring of love and support for me was one of the most humbling things I have ever experienced in my life.

I have a good friend of mine in Seattle, 80 some odd year old guy's like Brent. I was just devastated. So I called in a favor, talked to me. I called a friend of mine that's an archbishop at the Vatican. And they held mass in your name at the Vatican. Like, are you kidding me? Mass for a Mormon kid from Sammamish, Washington? How stinking cool. It didn't matter what religion I was, the outpouring of love and support is unlike anything I have ever experienced in

my life. And it makes a difference.

And I'm wearing this t-shirt today. You guys remember this T-shirt who came up with this quote? Our good friend, your good friend, the co-founder Brandon, right? Mistakes of boldness. He talked about what we can do together as a human species to lift one another up. I experienced that firsthan and I've gone on way too long on this.

But lemme just say there are two things that I learned. Number one, gratitude. Be grateful when you get that punch in the face. Be grateful for it. Don't be bitter about it. Be grateful for it. And say, what can you learn and how can you be better? And how can you make the people around you better for it?

Then number two, and this is something that I never would've done before 'cause I was always taught you keep your professional life over here and your personal life over here. And the two shouldn't intersect. Because if they intersect, then you're not gonna make the right decisions professionally. That's BS. My life is completely intersected and I love it. And it doesn't mean you can't make hard decisions. Doesn't mean you can't fire someone when they deserve to be fired.

It doesn't mean you can't say no to someone when they ask for a loan and they're not worthy of it.

But what it does mean is you can tell people that make a difference in your life, that you love them. And we don't do that enough. In today's day and age. We keep everybody at an arm's distance. And I'm not gonna do that anymore. I am gonna tell the people in my life that make a difference to me that I love them because life is too short and I know firsthand there is no guarantee of tomorrow.

I love that. I love that story. I love that evolution. 'cause you were always such a caring person about your team, your community, the world. Um, but I did see that just double triple 10 x um, through this experience.

One of the things that I was really impressed with as well, Brent, is that it reinvigorated your desire to build great things to, to achieve great things through banking. It actually amplified your, and you merged in a beautiful way, your personal life and your values with banking even more so than they already were. Um, one of the things that we've talked a lot about over the years is how a lot of hardships and trials and and tribulations in this whole banking industry is going through a lot of them. The whole world is going through a lot of those countries, going through a lot of them, how they always seem like, oh, not again or all this happened or, oh, and like the, the you can't handle anymore. But after the fact, depending on how we navigate it, they end up being such incredibly beautiful positives.

And, um, you and I have such great experiences and obviously such love for, for Brandon. Um, I wanted to share a bit about that for a second. Um you know very short version of this story, but we had, 'cause this story could go for hours and hours and we don't have the time for that. But, when Brandon first came to me, um, 'cause he had his first battle with cancer, which they thought was not gonna be lethal, they thought it wasn't much of a big deal. Um, it was chemo, it was uncomfortable, but it was very, very likely survivable.

But then it mutated and it came back. And, they said that he had three to four months to live and it had already fully metastasized throughout his lungs. So when he came to me and, and, and we had that conversation, we, you know, as you said the Mike Tyson quote, you know, Brandon got punched in the face. Um, and those who loved him and were around him closely, we, everyone felt very punched in the face. And even though that was this tragedy, what was amazing is how we bound together and found great solutions for that.

And there's a slide here that gives a example if we can throw it up, of what, what we went through. And this is, this was a bunch of, uh, nerdy engineers um, and different people who are, um, data people who started saying, alright, the big boogeyman of cancer, three to four months to live. What could we do?

And, you would think that these experiences would result in just trauma where you don't, you're not better after the fact. But we ended up, as you can see on this chart, I don't know if you can see this little middle section of the bottom, but we actually mapped out his entire protein cascade of his cancer mutation of exactly why it was doing what it was doing. And then traveled him around the entire country to every cancer center and looked at every single possible solution and mapped out which ones were dead ends and which ones worked.

And the next slide zooms into this section right here, which is his, you can see this main big chart is the orange is the growth rate of his cancer projected. Uh, and that was what he was facing. And of course it would be certain death within a few months, but by analyzing it, knocking on every door and being tenacious about it and getting to all these cancer centers, which took a lot of energy on his part and everyone else's part, um, you can see he beat it all the way back. And these charts. So every individual nodule with the cancer growth down to, um, almost non measuring amounts. And he was asymptomatic you know, for years and years and six good years. And for those of the people that got to know Brandon here, those are some of his most incredible years.

And I'm seeing you light up in this way where your ability to contribute to the world 10 xd through hardship. And that's the beauty of hardship. And I watched Brandon, he lived five lifetimes in six years. You know, he impacted so many people. He lived with such an unapologetic vigor and all these quotes that he had had in his mind that they, they came out even more boldly and he said them more succinctly and more beautifully and they started changing people's lives and he turned this tragedy into so much beauty and so much impact and so much meaning.

And then as we all know, um, six years later, during an experimental treatment to make sure that the cancer wouldn't come back, the treatment went a little sideways and we terrifyingly sadly lost Brandon quite suddenly and it shook everyone to the core. But I always choose to remember those six years that he just grew and blossomed and turned tragedy into something truly amazing.

You know, one of the quotes that I will always remember about Brandon is let's find your path to freedom. I look at the work that he and the MX team did. Let's find the path to freedom. Everybody says it can't be done. Let's find it. Let, let's dig in. Let let's do the work. And if you don't mind, I'd love you to share a little bit of your story and your daughter's story and your wife's story with us.

Because one of the things that Brandon faced head on and I've had the opportunity to face going through this is liberating, no longer living with fear. I've had a lot of people say, be all, you're not gonna get on a plane again, are you? I'm like, do you know me? I'm getting on a plane right when it's my time, it's my time, but I'm not gonna live fearful. And it is incredibly powerful and liberating what that can do when you come face to face with your own mortality. Yeah, I think it's just finding beauty out of tragedy is, is is humans at their absolute best?

Yeah, I mean, I'll share briefly. You mentioned my daughter. Um, you know, we faced a medical condition that came outta nowhere. It was a drug given incorrectly. And it was um, essentially a lethal dose. It was an otherwise rather routine hospital visit. And, uh things very quickly went from where we thought we were gonna be going home in two to three hours, to where within about two hours she was on the worst kind of life support Ecmo.

Um, she had 47 minutes of CPR non-responsive. So, which for a two and a half year old is about as terrifying as a parent can witness that occurring and, um, shook our family to the absolute core this happened.

Um, Brandon is actually, um, Chloe's godfather. He was the first non-family member to hold her. He was there at the hospital. Um, he is, he was incredibly close to my wife and I and um, when all the things that we learned from, from Brandon that we learned from his journey of overcoming this, these impossible odds that were, were said to him. We went to 12 cancer centers and every single one said, no hope. No hope. There were two that said there's a slim chance of an experimental, something we might be able to try but, you know, manage your expectations.

And we faced similar odds with Chloe. They told us that they were going to have to, um, take her off life support that um, she had stroked so bad they're gonna have to cut out half of her brain do what was called a hemispherectomy, which I did not even know was a thing. 'cause part of her brain was so damaged. Um, they told us that there was no chance of recovery multiple times. Um, we met with end of life care. Um, and then once you started getting a little bit better and there's a chance of recovery, they said there was no chance that her heart could recover.

And my wife, being the brilliant medical mind that she is, I've got so much respect for her. I said, okay, great, let's get a transplant. Let's get her on a list. Let's do this. And my wife pulled me aside and said, that is a beautiful option if you have no other options. But if we transplant her, the first one will last on average 10 years if, if it even takes, the second one will last on average five years. And the third one, which you likely won't get, will last on average two to three years. And I said, you mean that if we choose to make transplant right now, she will be dead before she's 20. And she said, very likely there's a chance there's a bell curve. She could go quite, you know, go years and years further. She could, she could go years sooner.

So we were facing those kinds of odds yet again. But I had learned from what we went through with Brandon, um, 'cause the very first time that Brandon got that diagnosis, he flew home and we started building that diagram. You know, I called my two brothers over, started calling some engineers and we just started doing every bit of research we could. So with Chloe, knowing that we're facing those odds, we went into research mode and luckily we were able to rely on my wife's brilliant medical mind to fill in all these gaps of what does this term mean? What does this term mean? Then we're researching and googling like crazy.

But if you bring up this diagram, you can see how it has similarities to the diagram that I built for Brandon. Um, this is the diagram of us mapping it out. And the top purple was us researching every single thing we could about what is heart failure? How does it work? What caused it? Could the drugs have done? You know, what's the life support she's on? How do you get off?

And then the red was researching all the potential causes of the underlying support mechanisms. And then the green quite colored that way intentionally was our hope of, of how could we, if there was, 'cause they said there's no path to recovery. And we said, well what if there was a path, what would it look like? And they said, but there isn't. They said, I get it, but what if there was?

And so we started researching everything that we could and my wife filled in all these critical medical gaps and I aligned the data as best we could. And then the blue was actually the path to get off life support successfully with her own heart that gave her a chance of a full life. And, um, it's a much longer story than we have for today. But we made it.

And I've watched my daughter and my wife, the tragedy digs you down for a bit. But what's so amazing is when you choose to fight, when you choose to endeavor and worthy causes,

it changes you in a way that you can create such happiness, such joy, such gratitude.

And I see this little strength in my now seven and a half year old that, and I tell her all the time 'cause she's still having to learn to rewalk and she's still getting through some of her medical stuff. 'cause it was, being on life support for six months is a pretty brutal journey. And I tell her all the time that she's the blessing of challenges that will enable her to enjoy an adult life and have happiness that others may not have. And that's a blessing. It's a challenge, it's a hardship, but it's a blessing.

And I've seen you go through the same thing and I'm grateful that we got the chance to get up here on stage today and share that. And, uh, do you have any closing thoughts you'd like to share?

Yeah, I guess I would just say thank you for sharing that about your daughter. You shared that with me in the hospital and it's inspirational, right? Uh, never take no for an answer. I figured out to get into the facts and it's empowering. And so thank you. Thank you for sharing that.

I guess what I would say at the end of the day, we're in this life together and it's a journey. And one of the great outcomes for me and my WaFd family is this has brought us together, going through this together, right? Um, everybody has emergency succession plans. You never want to use them, but when they get used and you have to go through this together, it is remarkable. And culture is not what's on the website, culture's how you live your life. It's about implementing programs to make a difference in your community. It's about pulling together for one another. So I would just encourage everyone here to live your values. Don't, don't put your values on a resume, but live your values every single day and you will have a purposeful life.

I love that. I love that. Can't end on a better note than that. Thank you Brent.

Thanks brother.

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